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Winter Wonders: Brussels unveils ‘magical’ festive programme for holiday season
The city of Brussels is dusting off its twinkly lights and preparing to transform the city centre into a seasonal wonderland from 24 November until 7 January.
Unveiling the programme for the 23rd edition of Winter Wonders, the city promised a warm, colourful and magical atmosphere.
While the sprawling Christmas market runs until 31 December, festivities in the Grand Place, Place De Brouckère and Place de la Monnaie continue to run until 7 January.
Dominating the city’s main historic square is the traditional Christmas tree, which arrives on 16 November. The local spruce from the Flemish municipality of Lier is to be decorated with symbols of the 11 indigenous nations of Quebec. They return as guests of honour for the event for the second year.
They are also behind the design of the Grand Place’s habitual sound and light show to be beamed onto the facades of the square’s medieval buildings. The first nations are occupying a special village in front of the Bourse, offering visitors an immersive experience of a traditional Shaputuan tent plus a changing series of activities every Friday that celebrate their heritage.
An interactive light installation ‘In praise of air’ at Mont des Arts is a collaboration between the Canadian city of Quebec and Europe. It invites passers-by to set large flags fluttering by activating swings and music with swaying movements. The display is captivating at night when illuminated by beams of white light.
Place De Brouckère hosts an ice rink for skating as well as a curling rink were enthusiasts can play the popular sport that originated in Scotland. Thursday after-ski evenings invite a medley of local DJs to further enliven the space.
The Christmas market, one of the most popular in Europe, remains Winter Wonders’ star attraction. With 250 chalets open from midday to 22.00, it threads through the downtown area: Place de la Monnaie, Place De Brouckère, Place de la Bourse and Place Sainte-Catherine. The latter is home to the looming Ferris Wheel and colourful kids’ merry-go-round rides.
Some 30 wooden huts bear a special craft label. They offer artisan gifts and décor. Fans of alpine specialities and tempting sweet treats can head to Place de la Monnaie.
Choral groups raise their voices to warm up the scene at the Tour Noire at weekends. Winter Vox performs seasonal songs until 17 December. Elsewhere, city-centre museums are open with a variety of exhibitions as well as the newly-inaugurated Bourse-Belgian Beer World. Cinemamed film festival at the Palace and the urban dance Detours Festival offer additional entertainment.
Another artisan focus, ‘Heart Made’ in Galerie Ravenstein is a market of designers and creators promoting Belgian craftsmanship. It also offers family activities, including cinema, screen printing and drawing workshops and concerts.
Among the attractions for children is an Enchanted House, located at the Tour Noire behind Sainte-Catherine church. Storytelling and street art are just some of the fun activities for little ones. Meanwhile, a baby corner at the Bourse, near the Belgian Beer World gift shop, provides changing facilities and other comforts.
Since 2017, the Winter Pop caravans have been bringing seasonal cheer to other corners of the city. Over three weekends in December, Place Peter Benoît (Neder-Over-Heembeek), Place Willems (Laeken) and Square Ambiorix (EU Quarter) take it in turns to open up their squares for concerts, dances, choirs, film screenings, theatre and fire shows, festive walks, face painting and association stands. Glowing braziers, bright lights, appetising edibles and warming drinks all add to the attraction of this decentralised programme.
Transport & energy
Sustainability and cleanliness remain key themes for this 2023 edition. Brussels state secretary for climate and sport Benoît Hellings urged visitors to travel into the city by train and use public transport with the Central train station the rail hub for accessing the downtown area. Car users are asked to favour park and ride schemes.
All festive illuminations around the city use LED lamps. While plastic beakers with a deposit are now habitual for consumers at outdoor events, the city is running a pilot project for recyclable tableware as part of a ramped up sustainability drive.
Hellings told The Bulletin: “We have to change our biggest event in Brussels as it brings a lot of visitors and tourists and we have to show that we are modern in terms of mobility and waste.”
The reusable tableware scheme is restricted to De Brouckère, Bourse and Monnaie squares. Consumers will pay a caution for plastic plates and dishes – that can be used up to 15 times – and asked to tidy them away afterwards in designated areas.
“It’s quite expensive for the city but it’s important for our image. We also want to show what's possible and to accompany traders in such initiatives,” added Hellings.
24 November to 7 January
Brussels city centre and other locations
Photos: ©City of Brussels